How to conquer slippery kanji?

(Hi - I’m Level 3. Nice to meet you!)

Some kanji I keep missing over and over again - I’ll see the answer and think oh, DUH, knew that, I’ll breeze through it next time. Next time comes and - same loop. I tend to score ~80% on the reviews lately (is that a sustainable number?), and about half of the missed items fall into this category of repeated misses. It’s like they’re getting stored in a part of my brain that just disappears later. It’s not just WaniKani, I’ve experienced this with memory in other parts of life.

Does this happen to you? How do you lock down those “slippery” kanji?


80% is okay I’d say. Could be better, could be a lot worse.

The mnemonics can help in these cases - I have mixed results with them, sometimes they help, sometimes remembering which word in the mnemonic was important is even harder than remembering the kanji. Especially in the early levels though, the mnemonics still did help.

What caught my eye in particular though was this:

Did you really, though? If you did know it you wouldn’t have gotten it wrong - or at least you wouldn’t have gotten it wrong twice. If you just made a typo, then sure, you knew it, but if you flat out get it wrong, you didn’t quite remember the right meaning or reading for the kanji.

Repeat it a few times in your head. If you confuse two kanji, put them side by side and see which radicals are different. Work on memorising it. Doesn’t have to be long, just a little bit. I think that coupled with just letting the SRS work its magic can make a huge difference.

Aside from that, you’re still in the early stages. Kanji are relatively new to you and your brain hasn’t quite learned how to process them yet. Give it some time, it gets better.


80% isn’t bad. You probably don’t want to go below that though.

Once you get to a higher level and it gets more challenging you can use scripts to help like the self-study script, or the dashboard apprentice script which is what I use to quickly review kanji and vocab sometimes before doing reviews.

The other tip that seems to come up most often is to keep your apprentice items lower if you’re finding it challenging

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I disagree with this. I don’t think you sould stress about percentages. You will have bad days, and that’s okay. Let the SRS do it’s work.

If you have ones your struggling with and always missing, try to figure out why. Are yoy mixing up the kanji or readings? Regardless, give them a little more attention, like Yami suggested. Maybe try looking up the streak order on and writing them.


Couple of things:

  1. 80% may sound OK, but that’s not a deep enough analysis. Do you always keep missing the same 20%? If yes, you’ll be in trouble and here’s why: as you progress through levels, the list of these “leeches” will keep growing and if you keep getting them wrong, it will get overwhelming. If it’s not the same 20%, you’ll likely be fine.

  2. Aim for higher accuracy. Slow down when you get something wrong and really read through it a couple of times.

  3. When you do reviews, order them by reading first. @rfindley has presented great reasoning for this in the past.

  4. When you do reviews, say both reading, then meaning out loud each time the item appears. I find this really helps with retention.

  5. This is the least popular suggestion for some reason: write. For a lot of people, writing helps a lot with retention. It will also help develop recall, which is something WK fails at spectacularly, since it is not designed with that in mind.

  6. Install the Phonetic-semantic script. It’ll seem like overkill at the start, but as you progress you’ll learn to make connections that you wouldn’t necessarily without it. And really, the more connections you develop for an item, the easier it should be for it to stick.

It all really comes down to connections.
When you use the phonectic-semantic script, you build etymological connections between items and thuor components.
When you write you build connections between your movements and the items (colloquially known as “muscle memory” ).
When you say items out loud, you build connections between the sounds and the items.
When you review reading before meaning, you essentially force retrieval of the item without the crutch that is the English meaning. This solidified the connection between the reading and the item.
When you slow down and look at the items for longer, you build the connections between the visual representation and the item.
When you slow down and spend more time with the mnemonics, you build connections between the stories and the items.

Aim for connections, not speed.


I agree to an extent.

Bad days will happen, but if you’re structurally well below 80%-ish you’re probably not retaining as much as you could be - especially as your reviews start being filled with guru and higher level items. You might be overwhelming yourself with too many lessons, you might need to read the mnemonics a few more times, you might need to adopt a different strategy for memorising readings, but there’s something that’s not letting the kanji stick as well as they should.

That’s not to say you should be stressing out over your accuracy, but low accuracy can definitely indicate there’s potential for improvement. The SRS is a great thing, but it’s not magic, and it’ll only work well when used in a way that lets it work for you.


Hey hey, I wouldn’t worry too much about percentages. Sometimes you’ll get 60%, sometimes you’ll get 100%, I think what matters most is what you think your overall progress is.

Anyways, to answer your og question, I didn’t encounter them often, however what I did was I just tended to create new mnemonics for them that better suited me. Another way was that you could try to write them down or repeat them outloud.

I’m not sure whether you’re having trouble with the english or japanese versions, but my friend had a very good system for memorising unfamiliar material by saying something he wanted to remember 3 times without looking at it, and then moving onto the next concept. After he repeated that for the next concept, he’d repeat whatever it was he had first, and so on so forth. It basically went something like this:

If you wanted to memorise, say, 一、二、三, you’d look at いち, and repeat that 3 times. Then, you’d look at に and repeat that 3 times, then go back to the previous concepts, so you’d say “いち、に”. Afterwards, you’d look at さん, repeat that 3 times, and go “いち、に、さん” Only useful for Japanese words, but those tend to be the most “slippery” for me.

Anyways, sorry for the longish response, but I hope it helps!!! I’m not really used to interacting with the community tab, so I’m hoping this wasn’t too weird and lengthy explanation of what I personally do lmao

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That happens to me all the time, I get it wrong and see the answer and I think damn that was so easy how did I forget that?

I’ve found the best way to get it right the next time is just reread the correct answer and mnemonics a few times before moving on to the next question in your review, just take an extra minute to remember, if you just take a quick look and say “oh yeah the reading was ‘Dou’” and then move on there’s a higher chance you’ll forget.

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I can’t agree with this enough.

Learning how to write the kanji that were leeches for me has been the most consistent way to turn them from leeches into the ones that I remember the best!


OP, did you check wkstats to see how is your accuracy?

Otherwise, when I tend to fail a lot, I usually keep doing a lot of study quiz with ‘failed last review’. It is quite tedious but effective.


First of all, I’m super excited by all the responses here. So glad for the community support.

Lots of good tips! I will experiment with them. I’m in the early days of my Japanese learning, so I’m game to experiment and iterate to find an approach that is a good mixture of effective and effortless (not that it’s no effort, but integrates well with the other distractions in life).

I’ll just add that:

  • Reviewing more explicitly seems like something I can focus on, thanks for the advice!
  • Some of the stuff I’ve been having the hardest time with is counters (つ、日、月、etc). I’ve started to put these together in a tabular format to study because I think that will be more effective for me to learn. Those ones in particular are definitely not an issue of learning how to identify the kanji, but instead I need a more systematic way to understand how the various “special cases” fit together (rather than learning each in isolation).
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If I have an issue with a specific vocab/kanji, I try to think about it for a bit. Even something like trying to come up with a different mnemonic, or looking up words/phrases it’s used in, or even just looking at why you mess it up (similar kanji maybe? It might just be that you aren’t used to recognizing kanji yet, which gets way better over time). If you start thinking about the kanji, your brain will go “ah, wait, this might be important information then, let’s remember it”.

When I am having a lot of trouble with a Kanji or mixing it up with a similar one, I do find that learning to write it is a big help. I cut & paste it into Kanji Alive which shows the stroke order so that I can practice writing it correctly.

Counters are a nightmare, I also used to have tons of trouble with those, there are not that many exceptional readings further on.

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Ahh, I relate heavily. I think 月 is almost always just the number (uhh, no sure which reading, but rhe one I’ve thought of as default, に, さん, ect) plus がつ. There other two I struggle with what the number part is as well.

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For the ones where it just won’t sink in (and I think it is useful to know it in case of vocab) I actually make old fashioned flashcards. Note, I keep this very limited so that I won’t have tons of these so just the really bad leeches. Why old fashioned paper flashcards? Because the act of making it by writing it by hand helps me remember far better than making a digital version. I review these types of cards in the evening each day I have one as follows: make a new card, it gets added to the pile for the next day > next day if I get it right I put it in the 4-days-later pile, if completely wrong it goes in the for-tomorrow pile, if half right it goes into the 2-days-later pile. Once done for the day I shift the piles down the track for the next day (they are just on my desk neatly). Once it’s no work to get one right it’s moved into the 2-weeks-later pile (in a drawer). If that’s easy I do it again and once it’s passed it’s done. This is why only the most dire situations get a physical card, I don’t want a bunch of paper waste. Would work with Anki or something too. No waste.

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It sometimes happens to me and yeah, it’s more of a brain problem - your brain develops a habit/pattern out of the first incorrect answer and then enforces it through repetition.

The good news is that WaniKani seems to be able to compensate for things like that by repeating the item more often if it falls from higher levels to Apprentice. The bad news is that one has to put in some work into getting it back on track ;).

If you have been relying on the WaniKani mnemonic for a slippery kanji (love that term! :smiley: ), you have to change your approach entirely. Take the kanji out of WaniKani and start playing around with it - write it on paper, read it aloud, find extra words in which it’s used, etc. One needs to find a new, foreign context for it to get out of the vicious circle.

Yes, the counter for months is ヶ月かげつ specifically. Without the ヶ it’s always going to refer to a month of the year.


Oh yes, I know this feeling as well! :sweat_smile:
I mostly agree with all the things the others have already mentioned like taking some time to re-read the mnemonics, saying the reading/meaning out loud, practicing to write your slippery kanji and look up some vocabulary for them. But I would also tend to say not to stress too much about percentages but instead become aware of what makes you fail certain kanji and tackle them individually.

What helped me personally the most though was reinventing the mnemonics and really personalize them to form a strong connection in my brain.
An example:
For the longest time 直 (Fix) was my most slippery kanji and couldn’t remember it’s readings so I changed the story to use the phonetics of hungarian words I know well to represent the readings.
ちょく became “kiss”, hun. csók and じき became “tickle”, hun. csikil: So I personally had to kiss and tickle the lion to fix his eye. :upside_down_face:

Don’t overthink statistics or your mind will be wandering while you review your kanji. I think it’s mainly a focus problem. When you focus 100% on looking at the kanji and reading the mnemonics, your brain really begins making connections. Sometimes these connections help, sometimes you just don’t get them for a couple reviews and then suddenly you have them.
I have noticed that my connections improve when I’m well rested and calm. If I’m hurrying I will almost certainly miss lots of things I already mastered, even typos appear easily.
You will see how your brain progressively gets accustomed to making invisible connections and you will recall things without giving them much thought. It’s brain plasticity, but remember to always review without distractions.
Also remember that the brain can’t assimilate during very long periods at a time. So for example, one review should only take 20 minutes and no more. After a 20 minute 100% focused review, take a brake, do something else and if you want to continue, you may come back after another 20 minutes or more.
You can also create your own mnemonics when those provided don’t fit your imagination. Sometimes you may come up with a funny idea that can help. But only do this if it comes easily, otherwise just stick to the existing ones. Your brain will end up creating paths to find them even when they seem quirky.
Cheers and just keep up !!!